Every day in the United States, oil and gas wells generate approximately 2 billion gallons of waste water that is eventually returned to the earth through thousands of underground injection wells. Because of the importance of these injection wells to the oil and gas industry, it comes as little surprise that environmental activist groups have begun to scrutinize and try to disrupt this practice.
For example, on August 14, 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the West Virginia Surface Owner’s Rights Organization sent a letter to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claiming that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) is failing to properly administer the disposal of oil and gas waste in underground injection disposal wells. The letter claims that the operator of two underground injection wells injected oil and gas waste after their underground injection control (UIC) permits had expired, and alleges that WVDEP improperly renewed these UIC permits months later and retroactively authorized the injections that took place without a permit.
West Virginia, like many states, operates its own UIC program under the Safe Drinking Water Act pursuant to authorization the state received from EPA. The NRDC letter encourages EPA to “identify deficiencies” in West Virginia’s administration of its UIC program and withdraw federal approval of the program if WVDEP fails to correct those deficiencies. The letter cites a recent report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that calls for stricter EPA supervision of state UIC programs.
While it is unlikely that this letter will lead EPA to withdraw its approval of West Virginia’s UIC program, it is a reminder that environmental groups will continue to make the disposal of oil and gas waste a focal point in their opposition to the shale revolution.
This article was authored by Aaron S. Heishman, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author, see here.